By Han Qin Guang and Liew Ian Hwee at Fellowship Weekend 2016
In this series, we’ve been looking at different tools for reading the Bible. Reading comes (relatively) easy if it's all about tips and techniques, but what do we do with what we’ve read? As many have said, studying and reading the Bible is not about gleaning information, as we would for a test. There is also power in the Word because it transforms us, and calls us to obedience.
What does it mean to be obedient?
Let us consider what it means to be obedient to God’s Word. There is nothing difficult or fancy about it, and truth be told, most of us know what it means - the difficulty comes in the action itself. To be obedient involves knowing and understanding God’s Word, trusting and believing the truths stated in it, and to follow the commands that have been written. It involves the head, heart and our hands. Very often, we think of obedience merely as actions, but it actually flows from knowing and understanding everything.
The Bible describes it in greater detail. In Deut 8:1, Moses, before his death, preached to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land to “be careful” to “follow every command [he was] giving them” [NIV]. Moses also instructed them to “Observe the commands of the LORD ... walking in obedience to him and revering him” [Deut 8:6, NIV]. Here, Moses links obeying God’s commands with respect and fear towards God. This message of obeying God’s commands recurs throughout the book of Deuteronomy, as it is was part of Israel’s preparation before entering Canaan i.e. Israel was God’s people. They had to be constantly reminded that their lives were set apart for Him which in turn required their obedience (c.f. Deut. 4:1-14, 10:12-13, 27:1-8).
The command to obey is not just laid out in narrative and given as instructions - Psalm 119 is an entire psalm devoted to God’s Word and the Psalmist’s response to it. An acrostic poem with 176 verses, the big theme in this chapter is being obedient to God’s Word. Here's just a sample from Ps 119:1-8, 9-11:
- “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord”
- “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways”
- “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word...”
Obedience is seen as a joy, delighted in, and even prayed for.
This continues in the New Testament. In fact, one of the responses that Jesus gives to “the tempter” (i.e. Satan) in Matt. 4:1-4 speaks about living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Obedience to God’s word here is likened to a form of sustenance, something crucial for living a life that pleases God. Jesus is actually quoting the Old Testament from Deut 8:3. This says something about what He thought of the OT and Scripture! Truly, He was the one who obeyed Scripture faithfully and completely. Paul also touches on the obedience to God’s word in his Epistles to the early churches. Paul continually calls the Christians to live a life worthy of the Lord (c.f. Col 1:10), and shows them how this obedience means putting to death sin and the flesh and putting on the new life that they have in Christ (c.f Col 3:5-17, Eph 4:17-32). Obedience to God’s command and word runs through both the Old and New Testaments, and is expected of God’s people.
Why should we read and obey His Word?
Obedience is not a way for us to get into God’s good books. In fact, the Bible repeatedly shows us how we can obey only because of what God has first done for us. Rom 3:23-25 tells us plainly that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”
There are many reasons for obeying God, and some of them could be wrong. Sometimes people obey God to be counted as “righteous” before God, or think that they can “satisfy God’s holy requirements” through their own obedience. At other times, people obey out of fear of punishment by God, or even think that they can please God in order to earn His love. Jesus Christ and his death was the atoning sacrifice and obedience is the appropriate and natural response to the grace that has been shown to us. It is the the natural “effect” of grace if we understand it properly, when we see Christ as the only true substitute that justifies us completely.
There is a bigger outcome of our obedience. When we obey not from our own ability, but because of His grace it is ultimately for His glory. Rom 1:5 tells us how we can obey - “through whom [Christ] we have received grace and apostleship” -- and the end goal - “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations”. God gets the glory for our service if God gives the grace for our service, and if we serve by faith in that grace, in the strength of that grace and not our own.
Why is bringing God glory important? The glory of God is our hope and our salvation and our joy. This was how it was originally intended: for God to be glorified is the goal of all our longings. We struggle to understand this now and often fail to understand how this is good, because we live in a world after Genesis 3, broken and marred by the Fall. Sin separates us from the Lord and by nature, our hearts are set to reject the rule of God and determined to pursue our own glory. But for the Christian in Christ, sin’s hold has been broken. This was made possible through Christ, who obeyed the Father perfectly and wholeheartedly, even to death on the cross.
Turning away from temptation and sin daily in obedience to the commands of God is now possible by the grace of God and we are also able to have access to the Lord Himself. Becoming a Christian does not make us perfect immediately, and obedience to God’s word is therefore important as God’s word is the all-encompassing, all-sufficient, definitive “instruction guide” on living a life that pleases and glorifies God. As Ps 119:9,11 puts it, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (v. 9, 11). God’s word is like a compass and serves as our guide to navigating this life. But like a compass, we can either choose to follow it’s direction, or blatantly (and honestly, quite stupidly) choose to go against it.
How can we be obedient to God’s Word?
Obedience is not just about knowing and understanding God’s Word and His character, but this knowledge changes our heart and translates into actions. How can we live it out? Here are some practical steps to consider when we approach God’s Word. It describes not only actions, but also the kind of heart that we should have. Sometimes we think that obedience is for some people and only applies to the Major Decisions in life such as a new job, going to be a missionary, or choosing a life partner etc. We may be surprised, and often overlook the fact that obedience works itself out in the small decisions we make everyday. The small steps of daily obedience also prepares us to take the plunge and obey in the big leaps of life.
Pray before reading to prepare one’s mind into approaching the scriptures. None of us readily want to read the Bible all the time. The Psalmist’s prayer in Ps 119:8 - “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out out of your law” - is a good prayer to prepare our hearts when we come before God’s Word.
Understand what the Scripture says correctly. It is important to be aware of the passage’s context to further understand the themes that run through the text. We’ve seen some of these tools in the previous blog posts, and these help us to understand what God is saying to us.
Reflect on the Scriptures by asking questions, and “letting it sink in”. Consider organising your reflections and thoughts in a journal. That is a good practice and helps you to go back to it in future. It is important to be specific about how this text relates to you. Some helpful questions are:
- What does this show me about God and His nature or character?
- Is there a clear command in these verses?
- What does this show me about myself? Are there areas of my life that I am not obeying the commands of God?
Pray after reading as a way to commit what God revealed in His word to your life. Be open to what God is revealing to you, and what areas of your life the scripture applies to.
Obedience is the lifelong path that the Christian takes. Obedience to the Father's will may take us through suffering and unexpected path. We see that most clearly in the life of our Saviour Jesus, whose obedience led Him to death on the cross for disobedient sinners like you and me. But there is promised joy on the other side of obedience, that is, to paraphrase the words of C.S. Lewis, better than anything we have left behind. When we, like Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress meets our Hill of Difficulty, let us too choose the Narrow Way of obedience, and echo these words:
“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”
- What are other reasons for obeying God’s word? Are you obeying God’s word for the right reasons?
- What will obedience to God’s Word look like in your life?
- How can you help another Christian walk this path of obedience today?